The deal to screen the Team GSP v Team Koscheck Series from Sept 21 on Sky Sports 2 represents a major move forward in broadcasting for the leading mixed martial arts organisation, UFC.
Marshall Zelaznik, president of the UFC’s International Division, told Telegraph Sport: “It is hard to build a sport on a narrow distribution platform, and our plan is to allow fans to see the product as inexpensively as possible. We are always conscious of how we make the sport more accessible and more available.
While the sport is clearly growing rapidly in the UK, Zelaznik admits that building mixed martial arts “is a fragile process”.
He said: “Putting The Ultimate Fighter on Sky will create a halo effect of mainstream awareness. We are probably three or four years behind the US. We are trying to get it exposed to a new sports fan. We know we already have a solid fan base, but being on the Sky platform means an even bigger market to showcase the sport to mainstream sports fans.”
“Misconceptions about the sport are breaking down as more people become aware of it. They will see on this series that these are real athletes, with real dreams.”
This season of The Ultimate Fighter features 28 of the world’s best lightweight (11stone 1lbs) prospects competing in an elimination tournament to crown the next Ultimate Fighter and win a six-figure contract with the UFC.
The competitors will be split into two teams - one coached by UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre, the other by No1 contender Josh Koscheck - and endure a gruelling regime of jiu-jitsu, judo, Muay Thai, karate, boxing and wrestling in a state-of-the-art Las Vegas training facility.
The intense competition between the teams will continue after they leave the gym - at the Ultimate Fighter House.
The two finalists will square off in a finale held in front of a sold out Las Vegas crowd, where the winner will be declared “The Ultimate Fighter”. UFC President Dana White will once again serve as host of the series, with Mike Tyson featuring in the first episode.
This season of ‘TUF’ features British hopeful Aaron Wilkinson, a 23-year-old fighting out of the same Wolf’s Lair gym which boast UFC stars such as Michael Bisping and ‘Rampage’ Jackson. Bisping shot to stardom by winning the Ultimate Fighter in 2006, and has since fought in front of packed arenas across the US, the UK, Canada and Australia and parlayed his Ultimate Fighter fame into TV and movie roles.
Announcing the deal, Barney Francis, Sky Sports’ Managing Director, added: “We’re delighted to renew our association with the Ultimate Fighting Championship as we were the first UK broadcaster to feature the UFC back in 2002. The Ultimate Fighter series offers a unique taster of a sport that has experienced a phenomenal rise in popularity in recent years and we’re sure it’ll prove popular with our subscribers.”
Zelaznik also countered criticism over a lack of UFC events for eleven months in the UK from last November, to this October. UFC 120 takes places in London on October 16, with a raft of British fighters, and star names in Bisping, Hardy, and rising contender John Hathaway.
“No one set out last year to have an 11-month hiatus. The pressure of building the sport into a global framework meant taking events to Australia, Germany, Abu Dhabi. It really just came down to logistics. This, however, is the kind of move which is going to cement our way to having three or four major events in the UK every year," Zelaznik said.
“There is great optimism in the company about next year in the UK. Ninety-five percent of tickets for the O2 Arena sold out within a week, and ticket sales are strong for the Fan Expo that weekend. The fan base is only going to get deeper and wider.”
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I havent seen any adverts for it. Having watched the first episode the season looks a hum dinger. Starts tonight on sky sports 2 at 10pm